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[ree-buh s] /ˈri bəs/
noun, plural rebuses.
a representation of a word or phrase by pictures, symbols, etc., that suggest that word or phrase or its syllables:
Two gates and a head is a rebus for Gateshead.
a piece of writing containing many such representations.
1595-1605; < Latin rēbus by things (ablative plural of rēs), in phrase nōn verbīs sed rēbus not by words but by things Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for rebus
  • Berry drives this point home today in a rebus puzzle that has us questioning which color we're seeing.
  • Someone does a triple pangram and someone else responds with an outside-the-grid rebus.
  • The same dreamer on another occasion relates a short dream which almost recalls the technique of a rebus.
  • The rebus form is centuries old, and has been used in various forms.
British Dictionary definitions for rebus


noun (pl) -buses
a puzzle consisting of pictures representing syllables and words; in such a puzzle the word hear might be represented by H followed by a picture of an ear
a heraldic emblem or device that is a pictorial representation of or pun on the name of the bearer
Word Origin
C17: from French rébus, from the Latin rēbus by things, from res
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for rebus

c.1600, from Latin rebus "by means of objects," ablative plural of res "thing, object." According to French sources, principally from the phrase de rebus quæ geruntur "of things which are going on," in reference to the satirical pieces composed by Picardy clerks at carnivals, subtle satires of current events using pictures to suggest words, phrases or things. Or it may be from the representations being non verbis sed rebus "not by words, but by things." In either case from Latin res "thing."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for rebus

rebus principle

representation of a word or syllable by a picture of an object the name of which resembles in sound the represented word or syllable. Several rebuses may be combined-in a single device or successively-to make a phrase or sentence. Literary rebuses use letters, numbers, musical notes, or specially placed words to make sentences. Complex rebuses combine pictures and letters. Rebuses may convey direct meanings, especially to inform or instruct illiterate people; or they may deliberately conceal meanings, to inform only the initiated or to puzzle and amuse.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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